|Students make a presentations on their travel agency to top executives at the National Academy Foundation’s annual gala event.|
No one is born a travel agent—the craft, like most, requires extensive study and practice in order to do well. Recognizing this, a high school in upstate New York is providing classes in travel management.
The class at East High School in Rochester, NY, is part of the Academy of Hospitality & Tourism, which itself is part of the National Academy Foundation (NAF), a network of career-themed academies. Students in these academies can pick from five career themes: finance, hospitality & tourism, information technology, engineering and health sciences. During the 2010-11 school year, 500 NAF academies served nearly 50,000 students across 40 states, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Best of all: NAF has a national graduation rate of 90 percent.
In the classroom, the 52 students don’t just learn about selling travel, but actually sell it. The school purchased an online agency via YTB International, Inc. several years back, and the students actively book trips for their clients. The agency, Easthightravel.com, is similar to Expedia or Travelocity, says Jim Spawton, the teacher of the hospitality and tourism class, and the class gets 60 percent of all commissions earned (a useful fund-raiser, he notes).
The class teaches its students how to book what Spawton calls the “four sectors” of a trip: transportation, lodging, food and beverage, and entertainment. “We push the whole industry,” he says. “We talk about cruise lines and look at their schedules. I have a chart on my wall from the American Hotel & Lodging Association listing a whole pyramid of jobs, from housekeeping up to general manager, showing what different jobs pay.” Marriott is a national partner with NAF, so the class works with local Marriotts to provide opportunities for kids. The students also watch Marriott’s employee training videos to get a sense of what the hospitality industry is like.
“Kids work on projects and become familiar with all the aspects of booking hotels, cars and add-ons.” To teach kids how to prepare a trip, Spawton presents them with a destination and three budgets, generally in increments of $1,000.
“As an agent, you don’t want to rip off your customers, but you make your money selling these things,” Spawton says. “They may find that they can’t stay within the budget, and they have to tell me that.” On the other hand, he adds, if they are able to arrange the whole trip for less than the budget, he encourages them to upgrade and get as close as they can to that limit—thus, earning as high a commission as possible.
“That’s why I give three budget levels. I want them to see the difference between booking a compact car and an SUV, or a Holiday Inn Express and a five-star Marriott.” At the end of the semester, they have to put together a proposal for a five-day trip for the senior class, and present it to the school administration as well as the students. To prepare for any questions these potential clients might ask, the students study each destination extensively using guides like AAA and Fodor’s. “Even if you’ve never been there, you have to provide a certain level of service to the customer,” Spawton says.
“I tell my kids, if we would travel and meet people in other countries, we would find out we’re more alike than different,” he adds. “The message is, you can be a part of this world, too, if you work for it. There are opportunities all over the world.”